Wednesday, 11 May 2011

On systems and charity

Well, it seems I'm driving readers away in their droves. That's what comes of living in a consumer society: fail to make yourself available for consumption and you get the push. Nice work.

For those faithful compagnons de route who remain, salve. Apologies for the hiatus earlier this week. Recent events have left me feeling at times like I have fallen down the rabbit hole par excellence. Happily, reality conspires to keep one sane. La réalité maîtresse, as I believe Péguy calls it somewhere. I'm still laughing about the tin-pot exercise in realism that a certain bile merchant recently tried to serve me on the internet. But passive-aggressive patronization is only another type of myth.

Speaking of Péguy, I just purchased his entire works for a project which will unfold over the next couple of years (I hope). This is a new venture for me, but also, I hope, a timely one. Péguy is the grand analyst of how systems and abstractions get in the way of freedom and realities. By freedom I do not mean licence but virtuous franchise.

I suppose one of the ironies for we Catholics is that we must sometimes suffer our 'system' because it is not just our bureaucratic system but our life system also. I remember a couple of years ago when bureaucrats in the Portsmouth Diocese tried to insist on the FSSP distributing Holy Communion on the hand during the avian flu crisis (you remember, the one that killed hundreds of thousands of Brits ...). The Pompey bureaucrats failed to take account of two things, however: on the one hand, the FSSP priests are forbidden from doing this by their statutes, and on the other hand, no traditionalist would receive Holy Communion on the hand. God knows why the Pompey men insisted on this measure, and God, not we, will be their judge.

The crucial thing here is what the FSSP should have done about it. In my view, they did the right thing. They obeyed the stricture and did not distribute Holy Communion over quite a long period (I forget how long). The damage was minimal. People could cross the diocesan border and not be subjected to the same rules.

We can make any number of hypotheses about this situation, which is now a fading memory, but my point is this: it would not have been good enough simply to defy the diocesan system. Some systems are arbitrary, but some systems are more than purely systematic. The truth is that when a system is God-given - and the attachment of individual Churches to bishops is God-given - it undoubtedly involves crosses that we are MEANT to carry. If we take ourselves out of the system, then we protect our sense of agency, but we miss out on potentially on what God wants to teach us. Some systems are not ideals, they are simply the reality in which we live, like fish in water or pigs in mud (I apply the last simile strictly to specimens like myself).

But my final point is this: we make a mistake when we act towards the Church as we might do towards bureaucracy (that is, rule by an office). The rule of Christ is that we do NOT come down from the cross. It is not that we come down from the cross and bash our enemies - or those we consider the enemies of Christ. Success is not our criterion; Christ is our criterion. Charity is not a hypothesis or a postulate. It is the life of God himself.

If I repeat these things, dear readers who remain, I repeat them above all so that I might not forget them.


umblepie said...

Thanks for this post - agree absolutely. 'Just un compagnon de route', but there are certainly many more.

Ogard said...

Additional information: the Slovenian bishops had ruled it for the whole country; somebody complained to the Holy See, and the bishops were overruled.

Richard Collins said...

As Pope JP II regressed into the final stages of his disease he was urged to retire from the Papacy. His response? "Christ did not step down from the cross."
A good philosophy to hang on to in these uncertain days.

Anagnostis said...

"Until you have suffered from the Church, you have not yet suffered with Christ" - Romano Guardini

Anonymous said...

Well, I have been suffering with and for the Church for at least forty years. This all sounds nice and "romantic", but the reality is something quite different especially when the Church and the Sacraments, which (correct me if I am wrong) should be a source of comfort and strength to us in this vale of tears, turn into the opposite.

Sue Sims said...

Sorry for the typo: that should, of course, have read 'EME'.

Sue Sims said...

Query: would you receive Communion from an EEM? (I have a personal motive for the query, as you might suspect.)

Anonymous said...

Almost every Sunday I receive Holy Communion from an EME. Why not? If Our Lord is humble enough to be handled by an EME, who am I not to receive Him from an EME?

Anagnostis said...

I'm profoundly sympathetic to the rueful objections of Anonymous, to my quote from Romano Guardini ("Until you have suffered from the Church, you have not yet suffered with Christ"). While suffering from the institution in its purely human aspect is practically inevitable (and potentially salutary), spending the whole of one's life in a kind of liturgical Bush Tucker Trial provokes questions at another level altogether.

GOR said...

I suppose it is only human that we frequently look upon the Church as a bureaucracy, given that we deal with bureaucracy in so many other aspects of our lives. Whether directives come from the Vatican or the local chancery people like to slice and dice them. “It’s only from a Vatican congregation, not the Pope” “It is from the Pope but he’s not speaking infallibly…” “He is speaking infallibly but you’ve got to understand that there’s infallibility and infallibility…”

I suspect some people would not be satisfied even if God Himself spoke directly to them – and would still want a second opinion.

It is interesting to contrast two recent – or relatively recent – examples. Padre Pio was falsely accused of assorted things and had his ministry restricted. Though he knew he was innocent, he acquiesced and didn’t question the ‘punishment’. Bishop Morris of Toowoomba is credibly accused of leading people astray and asked for his resignation. He doesn’t acquiesce, has lots of questions and takes his ‘case’ to the media.

In light of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, which one of these is more justified?

Ches said...

Apologies to all those whose comments were lost.